In one of those “Five Degrees of Separation” moments, the farm manager, Lucille (Lu) Munz and I realized we attended the same high school in Brooklyn. From Brooklyn to farm manager is an interesting journey.
Lu’s background is in Landscape Architecture. She was in Westchester working on a project for the county. One day her husband received a call about a piece of property the county wanted to restore as a farm. He wasn’t interested, she however was. She fell in love with the beautiful property that at night has views of the George Washington Bridge. It didn’t take much for her to become fully committed to protecting and preserving the farm which at the time was fallow. The vision, which has been realized was to create a working farm that offers educational classes on suburban and urban farming, composting, and sustainable living along with demonstrations. There’s also woodland trails and picnic areas not to mention a great weekly Farm Stand Fridays & Saturdays.
Name of Farm
Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center
1271 Hanover Street
How long has the farm been in the family (history of the farm)?
The Farm is owned by the County. In the 1930’s this was a preeminent dairy farm that actually worked on an honor system. People would pick up their milk bottles and leave the money. In 2003, Westchester County purchased the land as watershed property and to preserve the agricultural heritage. At that time it was not being used as a farm, it was pretty much a blank canvas waiting to be painted.
How many acres are on the farm?
The farms is 187 acres, of that 120 are parkland acres (our woodland trails) on the opposite side of the road. Then there’s about 60 acres which are considered the farm proper – the farm buildings, the pasture fields and the crop fields. We also have 2 greenhouses and a composting facility on site.
What do you grow?
We grow following all practices and approved methods for organic growing but our real focus is sustainable agriculture. We grow a vegetable crop; though we are considering fruit in the future. We’re growing everything from lettuce, greens, beets, to zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and different varieties of each.
How has the farm changed over the years?
At the turn of the century the farm was owned by Philip Berolzheimer (Philip’s father set up the Eagle Pencil Company). At that time it was an egg farm, then in the early 30’s is became a dairy farm and remained so until the early 80’s when it came under the pressure of development. When the county purchased the land in 2003 for preservation it was finally protected.
Where do you sell your produce?
We don’t participate in farmer markets yet but that’s something we’ll consider as we continue to expand the vegetable crops. We give 10% of our produce to the local food pantries. Last year we donated 4,000 pound of produce. We also sell through our farm stand, CSA and our ‘u-pick it’ crops.
Do you participate in CSA and/or farmer’s market?
We have a 100 member CSA, and we also grow for the ‘u-pick it’. We try to grow for the season but we try to push the season. We’re trying melons and sweet potatoes in the hoop house – sweet potatoes are a southern plant so it’s really a bit of an experiment.
Tell us about your most successful season?
I’d have to say this spring because I see a tremendous leap from the past few years in both the variety and volume of what we’re growing. We also have a great staff with amazing energy. I feel this our breakout year.
What was your hardest season and why?
Two years ago when we had the tomato blight because tomatoes are really one of the major ways people connect to farms. We lost all of our tomatoes – it hits you financially but it also hits you emotionally. The treatment of the plant is a death — you can’t compost the plants you have to throw them away. That was really hard.
What is your favorite thing to grow or raise, and why?
Well, I have to say tomatoes – I just love the tomatoes. The sun gold’s are especially delicious. I’ve been growing them for years on my own property. I’d ask my kids to go get tomatoes for a salad and they’d come back with a small bunch of tomaoes and I’d ask what happened to the rest and they’d confess they ate them on the way back!
Do you have a favorite recipe from the farm that you’d like to share?
Sauté some garlic and onion until it’s wilted, then add a big bunch of sun gold tomatoes and cook them until they pop and burst, then sauté just a little longer. Add some fresh basil, then sprinkle in goat cheese. It melts and becomes creamy – add a bit of Parmesan cheese and serve over pasta. It’s outrageously delicious!